COVID-19 has hit the world hard and it has highlighted how things can change in an instant. Especially in the UK which has experienced 3 lockdowns, over 100,000 deaths and more disruption to everyday life than you can shake a stick at.
As an adult some of the swift and instantaneous changes that comes with a global pandemic can be stressful for an adult – so imagine how our children feel.
Almost over night may children are no longer in school, locked in their homes away from friends and other families, with some facing additional stresses such as parental job loss or being trapped in a potentially upsetting or negative environment. Pair that will some of the stresses that children already face including poverty, community underfunding and stress for exam uncertainty.
At a time when they may not know how they are truly feeling, checking in with a young person is one way to assist them in processing their emotions and mental health during uncertainty.
By simply checking in and asking, “how are you?” it gives the individual permission to express themselves and shows that there is someone on their side. Many may find that when they ask, they get little response or expression. However, checking in often keeps the topic of mental health on the table, and the door open in terms of keeping the conversation alive.
That way should a young person start to feel like they need to speak to someone, they can come to you without judgement.
Take Time Away from Technology
As the pandemic hit and children were forced into prolonged periods indoors, many parents were lax with their enforcing of screen time, letting children spend hours at a time on their technology devices to escape the stresses of lockdown, and boredom.
Unfortunately, this is a doubled edged sword as the more the world battles the global COVID-19 pandemic, the more some children are spending with their eyes glued to a screen. This is not just in their personal time. As countries juggle education, many schools have moved to virtual teaching and lessons – which increases the number of hours spent in front of an electronic computer or device.
If you think that a young person in your life may be falling down the rabbit hole and spending a significant amount of time using technology, try and get them to take some time away.
You would be amazed at the number of children that are not taking time away from their devices – minutes becomes hours, which then become days. Some experts are worried about the withdrawal affects this will have on children and young people.
Do something that allows a child to take that time away from behind a keyboard or pad, to give the brain chance to reset and adjust. Sitting for prolonged periods in front of a computer, screen, device, or game system can affect the brain – especially if the child speaks to few people in that time.
Have a young person assist in making dinner or take the time to sit down with them and do a fun family activity, or simply have 15-30 minutes having a sit-down chat and a cup of tea. As highlighted above checking in can help an individual feel at ease if they need to talk as it keeps channels of communication open.
Leave the House!
Alternatively, encourage some exercise or physical activity. Simply going outside and taking a walk in the sunshine can do wonders for a person’s mental health.
Exercise releases endorphins which are chemicals released by the body to tackle stress. Otherwise known as the well being chemical, endorphins bring about feelings of joy and battle feelings of pain. Engaging in the recommended 30 minutes of exercise or physical activity a day can help assist in good mental health and keep the body and mind in shape.
Taking the time to get some sunlight is also a good thing for the mind as it helps boost serotonin which promotes positive moods and can help ease anxiety and depression – issues affecting more and more young people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Taking a young person out of a screen’s glare and into the outside world can help them shake any cobwebs that may have accumulated in their mind since their last adventure away from technology.
It is no secret that children benefit from a routine. It helps them feel secure and grounded in their lives. So, at a time when uncertainty seems to be everywhere, establishing and maintaining structure can be beneficial to the young, and their families alike.
Now, it may be hard when every other child seems to be staying up until the early hours or engaging in behaviours and activities that they would not normally if it was a normal school night. But the longer a young individual finds themselves without a schedule, the harder it will be to establish this in the future. It may seem, okay to have a child stay up later than usual, but an irregular sleep pattern can be detrimental to a child’s health.
Remember a child needs 7-8 hours of sleep a night to stay healthy both mentally and physically. Sleep gives the body the chance to rest, and the mind the opportunity to unravel and process events, thoughts, and feelings of the day.
Education routine should not be skipped either, maintaining as much of structure with regards to learning will make the transitions into school easier post-lockdown. If a school wants a child to complete a schedule of classes, then make sure they are there – it shows a young person that despite the current situation, education is still key in their growth and development.
Provide Contacts and Information
Arming yourself and a young person with the contacts and information surrounding the topic of mental health is key to battling bad or negative feelings and emotions as they appear.
There are a range of materials available both online and offline from charities and organisations including NSPCC, Mind and Young Minds. Online channels can be best in the current climate as they can be accessed at any hour and the convenience of the young person.
For those that need to actively talk to someone about their mental health without fear of judgement can do so for free via telephone too.
Information and guidance on how to tackle bad mental health and stay safe can also be found directly from schools who have procedures and support in place from a range of authorities. If you would like information on resources available while schools are closed, feel free to contact a member of our school safety team who can assist you in providing children with essential mental health resources.
How have you been helping children keep their mental health in check during the pandemic? Is there anything you would add to this list?
Check in with us on social media and let us know your thoughts and feelings on how to help the young people you know.